Henrique Cantigas Photography

I woke up today completely relieved and relaxed after light and easy dreaming and that’s when the contrast whispered to me, “Whoa! I still have some anxiety…wait do I? What is this light feeling? And what was that heavy feeling?”  Today I sensed relief of a weight that had been there moving in my chest during the days prior.  Due to drastic improvement in the amount of kindness I offer myself in tough spaces, I mistakenly thought my anxiety had completely disappeared. And in a way the suffering around it has.  Confusing right?  I find in life when I am in the middle of a both/and situation things can feel a bit muddled at first. Let’s see if I can break this down a bit for both of us.

Throughout almost exactly half of my life I had an anxiety disorder.  I was diagnosed and treated medically in my early 20s as panic attacks began to make it impossible for me to function fully.  During medical school I was able to safely come off my medication which was shocking to many folks because normally med school would be considered a time of great stress.  Not in my life.  My tumultuous life became markedly less chaotic during my medical training and has continued to improve year by year since then. In my ability to finally support myself independently through student loans, I brought an end to the financial manipulation that had previously been exerted on me. I believe that the root sensations of anxiety are not disease.  I believe that it is the body responding to real threats in the present and the past all at once.  These threats may have been difficult for an outsider to see because by the time I was 20, the greatest threat was myself.  My mind had learned perfectly how to mimic the deep self hatred and abuse that I had been raised in.  I hit my 20s with absolutely no idea how to be kind to myself in tough spaces. I recognized the repetition patterns in abusive relationships and knew I needed help.  

Rewiring an operating system of self hatred is not an easy task.  I’ve been at it consciously for over 20 years now.  Most recently it looked like removing a long time abusive nuclear family member from my life and meeting fully the intense grief associated with this decision. Standing for myself in this powerful decision had my body really believing that I am here for her in a big and lasting way. I am returning to self trust utilizing my original instincts of self care and self preservation.  As the closest witness to the abuse of my mother, I inherited an operating system that’s primary functional pathway was toughness rather than tenderness.  Tough is how we survived the abuse together. This discovery of the root language of my operating system was a keystone to unraveling my anxiety disorder.  Even writing about this here on the blog feels like a betrayal to my mother’s secrecy and I now know that particular feeling of betrayal is deadly to us both.

My experience of what happened/what is happening is valid. 

Knowing this one line holds a huge key to soothing the waves of my anxiety.

Life will always present difficulties. That is never going to change.  What has changed is how I show up for MYSELF when life does get hard.  When it becomes hard for me to get a deep breath I stop and start looking for ways to support myself in the space.  I allow myself to back off, to sit one out, to rest, to ask for support etc.  I no longer think things such as: What the F is wrong with me?  That line is the perfect recipe for more anxiety. Or my other survival trick was to simply speed up and do more meeting the activation of my nervous system with more activation utilizing adrenaline to survive as my body was accustomed to. Reading this I am certain you can see the problems this could cause my physical and mental health.

The truth is and ALWAYS has been there is nothing wrong with me.  My body is responding how it needs to be responding to whatever the situation is.  And YASSSSS my trauma informs how I respond to tough situations in the present and I hold rich tenderness and kindness around that knowledge as well.  Sounds so simple and yet this practice continues at a very conscious level in me today.  So yeah I could definitely still be seen as anxious from the outside.  Sensations are my teachers.  Each sensation is another indicator light on the dashboard of the vehicle I have learned to love and care for.  So when it flashes red, you better believe I am pulling right over and providing myself all the care/breath/attention I need.  After much dismantling, I have rebuilt an operating system based on trusting myself, my body, my instincts over the past 20 YEARS and I truly believe this is why I do not experience disordered anxiety any longer.  

I trust my sensations and I know that they move and change.  And by God if I get stuck, I know where to go for help. I have a team of treasured therapists, coaches, loved ones that know how to be with me when I need them.  I practice SLOWING down and listening to my body through dance and meditation study.  All of this supports me when the sensations get intense. My body knew life threatening fear during the formative years of my life.  This of course affects how scary is processed in me.  As an adult, I hold awareness and a whole lot of tenderness around this fact. The result of living in this clarity is quite different than the years I spent telling myself how other people had it much worse.

Also it is important to realize that for some of us the ability to get out and away from the scary has not yet arrived.  This is an excruciating place.  I hold so much compassion for those trapped by abusers.  If by some chance these words find you in that painful space, please know I see you.  I honor your journey exactly as you need it to be. May profound and deep care find you.    

And if the greatest abuser in your life is you, well there is great hope for you! It was me too!!!!!! The Clarity of Boundaries course gave me the missing tools I needed to really get deep into my operating systems and tune it up to exactly what I needed to thrive. Care, clarity, relief from blame/shame and guilt and so much more.

May my suffering serve the greatest good. May all of us know greater peace in our lifetimes.

Why Bother with Embodiment

Photo credit Dougal Waters

Today’s dance was another of those deep lessons of why I bother with embodiment.  It is absolutely possible to live our entire lives at the command and attention of our minds, our body a mere automobile for the boss that shouts from the top of our shoulders.   I know survival with this mind-driven strategy is factually possible because it is exactly how I lived out the first 40 years of my life.  The mind is great at survival.  My brain got me into and through medical school and eventually into an amazing relationship.  I thought my way into many great decisions and at the end of the day I was unable to sense and feel the joy and satisfaction of all the wonderful things that were happening in my life despite all my great thinking.  I had a million reasons to celebrate and I simply couldn’t feel them.  In all honesty, I couldn’t feel much below my neck as even my feelings remained lodged in my head.  

Interestingly in a brain-driven existence the louder and ungrounded emotions feel even bigger.  The stressful emotional pathways without a body to sense and feel and release instead run amok.  I ended up with feelings that ran circles within my mind, making it nearly impossible to sense and feel anything to completion.  I was literally carrying the feelings, the stories, the trauma of a lifetime inside me at all times and it was exhausting.  Landing in our bodies is required for an emotion to be fully expressed and released.  Otherwise feelings remain like undigested fragments stirring themselves into a confusing mess as they make gremlins with unhelpful thought processes.  Again, the mind is incredible at survival.  She isn’t the best at thriving.  As anyone that has asked hard questions knows, these two things are the results of very different choices surviving vs. thriving.  The latter often being the result of the harder choices.  The mind dislikes discomfort.  This is simply who she is and how she was made.  It is part of her being.  If we live only within our minds we learn nothing of the actual value of the discomfort of being human.  And, the discomfort is a critical piece of thriving in this complicated world.

So today just a simple embodiment offering.  As you move today, occasionally sense the soles of your feet wherever they are touching the ground beneath you.  And, when you get home tonight and slip out of your shoes, just pause for a moment to sense that release for a couple of seconds, and the floor of your home touching your feet and notice sensation.  Embodiment doesn’t need to be a big drawn out deal.  It can be this simple.  The soles of the feet are a magical gateway for sure though as they draw energy down and away from the Thinker.  Just play in the safety of your own home and see what happens…

The Worst Respiratory Season Ever

This fall is set to be one of the worst respiratory seasons in history.  One of the ways we predict flu season in the US is we look to Australia who precedes us with their winter.  This past flu season was the worst they’ve seen in 5 years.  This makes sense to me as children have returned to school unmasked and are spreading disease into gigantic reservoirs.  Viral reservoirs are large groups of hosts that lack immunity.  Most children of the pandemic lack basic pediatric immunity to rhino, entero, coxsackie, RSV, adeno, paraflu and most definitely this group of kids lacks any knowledge of influenza.  Think about the current pre K 3 and 4 classrooms.  These are the babies of the pandemic.  The world was masked up and influenza all about disappeared.  Unless vaccinated these children have zero immunity to influenza.  Once flu starts with any sort of force, disease will spread like wildfire through these age groups and then they will deposit the flu in their homes across the country.  So what do you do?

Any asthmatic child needs to be vaccinated for influenza this year to prevent death.  I have already seen one asthmatic with flu A that was doing very badly with this year’s strain and it is only September.  Based upon how severe her symptoms were, she looked like she had H1N1 and did test positive for Flu A.  Children without respiratory issues at baseline will likely survive flu; however it is five days of relentless high fevers, utter misery and often causes secondary ear infections and sometimes even pneumonia.  I want folks to have informed consent as to what you are signing up for.  For kiddos that have had true influenza in the past they should have some remaining immunity and thus far the strains appear to be the ones we are familiar with.  Understand that if influenza becomes widespread it could shift/drift like COV has shown us and cause even a bigger mess with a true novel variant.  The only folks that have any native immunity are the ones old enough to have had flu prior to the Covid Pandemic.  Know this:  even us with native immunity may be in trouble.  This is because normally each year we are naturally boosted by others with true flu around us.  We may not get terribly sick ever again because we have natural boosters.  Understand that in the face of the past 3 years of this pandemic, none of us had the exposures to influenza that we needed to naturally boost our immune systems.  Even those of us lucky enough to get an occasional 99F version of the flu may be destined for something much more inflammatory because the usual little gremlins didn’t give us our boosters nor challenge our immunity the way it needs to stay strong. 

I understand that my family is likely going to get the flu this year.  Both my kiddo and I have had multiple strains of true influenza in the past thanks to my urgent care job.  Our bodies will have some memory but not a ton.  

So here’s my current plan:

Elderberry syrup has proven effective against influenza and can shorten the course of disease.  We will be taking this daily as preventative.  We are also taking our winter regimen of vitamin C, D and zinc on the daily.  I have also added olive leaf extract to my daily regimen to scavenge free radicals and a high quality fish oil.  I highly recommend at least cotton masking simply to reduce the viral load that your child ends up.  My child wears a cotton mask to school despite the mandates being lifted.  Yes virion can penetrate this but not nearly as many as if he was unmasked completely.  

Please don’t hesitate to respond with questions.  This is going to be a tough one.  We will get through it together.  Also know the Farm Connection here in San Antonio makes delicious homemade elderberry syrup and does deliver.

Discerning an Embodied Roar from Rage (part two)

The practice of discernment between rage and my healthy roar is a deep learning for my body.  I am a survivor of multiple generations of rage that resulted directly in verbal and physical abuse.  Rage is defined as uncontrollable anger and is a part of our humanity.  Rage herself is not a demon; she is a powerful change bringer.  She has her place in our world and she can be the critical precursor to the healthy space clearing required for deep collective grief that brings lasting progress. Collective rage can act as the equivalent of a forest fire burning down all in its path and creating the opportunity for new growth, a new beginning. As powerful as rage is, she deserves a safe and supported space to be held.  At this point I’d argue that our rage deserves the support of professionals/communities that know how to hold this sacred space of transformation.  Rage represents the final boundary crossed.  The final shove at our spirit’s chest that sends us into full blown kill or be killed neurobiology.  This is a different sort of roar yet she shares space in our bodies with anger and can create confusion in communication with our children and loved ones when our embodied need to protect/defend is activated.

My personal rage reminds me of a flame thrower.  Put simply, I don’t want my child on the wrong end of my being when its throwing flames.  Step one for me is knowing and owning as a human being I am capable of rage. And here’s the tough part, I get to own my rage without an ounce of shame nor guilt… Shame can act like gasoline on the flames of rage.  This is such a tough place on its own and has taken me years to work through.  Can I simply and cleanly say, I am capable of rage?  Can I clean up the places in the past where my rage has burned down loved ones without whipping myself with the guilt stick?  Again, this is not an easy task.  And, this is the very necessary precursor work to regaining my healthy embodied roar.  

The second step has been learning the signals of my body.  Rage in my body feels like: a rush of actual fire down my arms, extremely hard to get a deep breath, my heart pounds, my hearing and sight are both altered as the strongest dose of adrenaline my body can create moves through me, again kill or be killed type of activation.  Because of the survival mode I lived in throughout childhood, rage was initially a well-oiled pathway in my neurology to simply survive.  It’s changing now as I have learned to stand for myself and remove the active abuse from my life.

When I sense this internal fire, my first step is move physically away from anyone that I do not want to get flames on. Sometimes I will even speak out loud, “I am not neuro-regulating!” This helps others know that my asking for space is for their protection because I am on actual neurological fire.  These steps are where mindfulness practices come in.  To be able to witness myself from the high watch and make intelligent choices despite my mind/body being on fire is the result of years of embodiment work.  It didn’t just happen by magic or because I said I wanted it to happen.  I have rolled up my sleeves, dug in and been practicing awareness and particularly I’ve been practicing sensing my body through a committed conscious dance practice.  In the presence of huge emotions like rage, the work pays off.  I know my body and I love her.  I know these sensations that indicate rage potentials are a LOUD call for me to come home to myself, and only myself.  I cannot hold anybody else in this space.  And yes, wouldn’t it be lovely if I never felt this way, if my childhood had been different, if life just wasn’t so fuggin hard, yes all true AND this is my real life.  The good news is this, it gets easier with practice.  And beautifully, rage visits less often once she’s been heard and held. It was in the space where rage had become less common, I was safely able to transition into the exploration of embodied anger.  

A different kind of roar! More to come soon on embodied anger….

Wonder and Grief

Ben Jackson Sheep in Heart Formation: Tribute to his Aunt Debby

My child is one of my most gifted teachers.  Not because he’s extraordinary, rather his gifts lay in his relationship to the ordinary.  My child is young enough to still have wonder informing his everyday world.  Over the past week I have been consciously witnessing his relationship to grief and how this relates to his sense of wonder.  They are so clearly interrelated in him.

This wasn’t a random choice to watch both of these parts of his childhood.  I’ve been studying/practicing grief for three years as a conscious reclaiming of this portion of my being human that was demonized in a combined effort by my protestant family, my own midwestern culture where I grew up and also by phony modern spiritualism.  I live in a culture that has no room for grief.  Grief requires a slowing that the machines of capitalism haven’t the time to afford.  Grief requires community and the more isolated we become in modern culture, the more difficult the high watch, a sacred beholder is to find.  Deep grief is not a job to take on alone.  Now you may ask why practice grief?  That sounds like a miserable way to start the day.  Lets focus instead on our high vibration emotions!!!!  I dare you to find grief on the emotional vibrancy charts. I am going to say this flat out: emotional vibration charts are actual fake bullsh*t AND they do damage to the practice of being human by assigning native emotions comparative values and then ranking them. This is utterly absurd. If you need more help understanding this please read Rumi, The Guest House.  

Grief is one of the most holy things we get to feel and experience as human beings.  As Martín Prechtal says, “Grief is praise.”  When we grieve the ones that are no longer here, we are praising the life and love they gave us, the places they touched our lives.  When we stop and allow the grief of war or environmental damage to touch us, we begin to mobilize for change.  If we stuff it down with dopamine distractions (scrolling, alcohol, more work), we miss the opportunity to live fully.   Grief makes room in our bodies for both wonder and for creative action.  And yes there is discomfort to grief.  As Shanti Zimmerman teaches without discomfort and a solid relationship to it, we will find ourselves stuck in adolescence just scrambling from one high vibe feeling to the next never finding actual maturity despite our aging.  A true elder and any child knows this is not the way to live a fully rich and informed life.  Malidoma Somé teaches that the Dagara keep the young children and the elders closely together in community in the village.  He talks of barely speaking with his father during early childhood because what would be the point?  A grown man, working, in the prime of his life is simply too busy to understand a child the way a patient and listening elder could.  It was his grandfather that was his closest ally.  The two ends of the most spiritually aware spectrum, those that have just entered from the spirit realm to those about to make their way out to spirit really get each other. Both have potential to fully understand the value of grief and wonder in our world.

I am grateful at 45 I have had this year to slow down and witness my child.  It is through my child that I realized that his ability to sense and move with grief is part of what is informing his sense of wonder.  New Mexico is a beautiful place to live and there is intense poverty, crime and complications from the ready distribution of methamphetamines. My child notices every, single human being in desolation.  He takes them in.  Sometimes he cries.  He reminds me to feel this.  He reminds me to feel the disparity in our world.  We were recently in Española and a young tattered man asked us for a brownie.  He didn’t ask for cash.  He simply said, “I am so hungry. Will you buy me a brownie?” J looked at me with total clarity that said we are going into Starbucks where he was standing and buying him one.  I talked with my child for a bit about the situation as tears quietly streamed down his face.  Oh how I wanted to take that pain away. Not only for J’s sakes but because for me as an adult the wave of the world’s disparity came crashing down on me in beholding this one hungry human being and my child’s attentive grief. We try to stop our children’s grief because we are uncomfortable with our own.  The deep well of grief from living 45 years in a world that gives no sh*ts about the poor and homeless hit me hard.  I do not cry and take in every single homeless person I encounter.  I do not always let the sadness touch me nor inform me.  I feel discomfort, yes but I do not always let that discomfort move as grief nor do I always move to action.  I spend much of my life grief constipated. The story I tell myself is, how would I get through my day crying all the time?  I am barely surviving all the things I must do.  This is classical German farmer mentality and serves capitalism beautifully.  This exact same dangerous thought moves through me and prevents me from sensing and meeting my grief at many other personal levels as well.  

There is an open-heartedness to wonder.  Without allowing my heart to open to grief, I am closing myself to wonder.  Anything I am avoiding feeling is simply dragging behind me in my day to day life and siphoning my creative energy.   

Today I am pausing to notice.  Today am I am choosing to practice grief and wonder.  A beautiful friend has a simple daily practice in which she names two things worthy of grief and blesses them with a few drops of salt water.  I am joining with her in solidarity today. 

Today I grieve for the homeless in my town. 
Today I grieve for the disrespect for the Earth. 

May my heart stay open even when I face the uncomfortable truths of my existence so that through my willingness to grieve my sense of wonder and praise is able to continue inform my life.

Proud Bunny

art credit Fiona Gill

Within patriarchy, I am vulnerable.  I live in an assigned female at birth body and I cis identify as a woman.  My pronouns are she and her.  I absolutely hate that these simple facts make me vulnerable.  I have attempted over the years to pretend I was not prey.  In my 20s, I liked to imagine that I was in fact a powerful wolf on the hunt myself (likely after reading Women who Run with the Wolves the first time and not really understanding any of it).  I taught myself how to grab predators by the throat and rip out their jugulars.  And for some reason after these fights, I always felt more bloodied and utterly devastated myself.  This result was because in reality I was a bunny attacking wolves!  A ferocious little beautiful bunny, yet I was still a bunny and I am lucky that I only ended up being raped and not killed by the US Marines that discovered me traveling alone in this mindset.  I could have easily been left for dead on a highway in Baja and no one would have known for a long time.  This was never a fair fight because I went into this interaction with these two highly trained men naively thinking we were on equal footing.  I was not thinking like a little bunny because I completely refused to believe I was one.  I saw wolves, two wolves, and no kidding, I thought in my naïve bunny head, I got this.  Run away didn’t even occur to me until it was very much too late.  

Now bunnies have excellent sensory function and fast legs for a reason.  They are prey animals.  Within patriarchy, women are prey.  And, in my youth refusing to own the totality of my vulnerability cost me dearly.  I thought if I simply refused to believe myself prey, I no longer would be. How I wish simply believing ourselves safe could be the solution to the hostility and murder of women worldwide. Now in my 40s I despise the fact that I am still culturally prey 20 years later. And that over the past 20 years, another generation of women younger than me are now forced to reckon with this same gross reality.  Though much wiser than I once was, I awoke today prey in the current state of patriarchal affairs and it drives me nuts.  What do I do with this knowledge?

I am certain other feminists would vomit in their mouths if asked to think of themselves as bunnies.  The word bunny applied to a woman immediately conjures up the Playboy mansion and its years of condoned abuse.  There are good reasons it is extremely uncomfortable to think of ourselves as prey.  Why it is important to teach our daughters, sons and inter children this patriarchal story of prey and predator is because only in recognizing and admitting that this horrendous tale continues today is there any hope of changing the story and the outcomes.

So as much as I really don’t love it:  Today, I am standing fully in loving awareness and proud of my bunny wisdom.  I am a listening long-eared soft and tender critter who was given these articulate senses for a reason.  Yes, I have teeth and I have fast legs that are always going to be wayyyyyy more likely to keep me alive spiritually, physically, mentally than my teeth.  I give myself full permission to move away from ANYTHING that feels unsafe to me.  This is my elder bunny wisdom.  I don’t love being prey and yet I get to know and own the vulnerability that I am.

AND, I’m going to keep fighting for the possibility of moving beyond being prey in my lifetime for myself, for you and for your children. I would love the opportunity to get to playfully and safely be any assortment of selves.

Today my prayer is specifically this:  May all women be free.  May all women know peace in our bodies.  May all women move in complete physical, mental and emotional safety in my lifetime.  

Readiness on the Pelvic Floor Journey

I am writing today from a camp chair at a folding table in my New Mexico kitchen.  My life has become nomadic and deliciously lighter in many ways.  However, this new material lightness doesn’t always lend itself to the cozy writing spots I was once used to, nor the lovely gaps of alone time where I could gather my thoughts  The homeschooling child sleeps and so I have cultivated this sweet, quiet space for you and I… 

Know it is warm in my kitchen today despite the snow falling outside and I have poured us a cup of tea.  As you imagine sitting here with me today may the tenderness surrounding us touch you.  I woke up early because I want to open up into the honesty of the timing of my choice to begin pelvic floor physical work.  This was not an easy choice for my body. In simply making the appointment to work with my own pelvic floor with a physical therapist so much energy in the form of memory began to move in my body.  And in that movement of memory/grief/fear it became quickly clear to me why I have chosen to wait for this exact moment to enter this form of healing work.  This choice has been years in the making and preparations, nearly a decade to be exact.

The timing of entering pelvic floor work matters.  Adding another human being to the mix on this journey is a HUGE step especially for survivors. As much as I would have loved for my healing to move much faster, deep, lasting healing cannot be rushed.  The body unfolds from trauma in its own time and as a human with this one life to live, healing time can feel extremely slow and the subtle changes invisible to my hurried eye.  I trust though, my body knows exactly what she is doing and over the past decade, I can see the shifts and sense her healing from the inside out.  

When one is contemplating pelvic floor work there are some important considerations.  May this short list help you decide on your timing or help you in the creation of your own readiness tool.  Each body is so unique.  Know that your readiness may require different pillars of support. It is in the recognizing of what I need, the magic happens.  Dr. Julie Von has a wonderful exercise she utilizes in helping folks find what they need as their foundation of wellness.  As women living within patriarchy sometimes the hardest question we can ask ourselves is, “What do I need?” These pillars once identified consciously are more able to help hold and support us as we facilitate our own healing.  I am applying the what are my pillars tool here in discovering what I need to move forward with this next step in my healing journey.   

  1. space, time and financial resources
  2. trusted/vetted facilitator be that a Pelvic floor PT, osteopath, Cranial Sacral/Myofascial, Priestess, sex therapist etc. 
  3. community/professional/partner support
  4. nervous system readiness

As an osteopathic physician that works with women at this stage of pelvic floor healing, I am now even more aware of the healing value of readiness that this journey requires.  I am so lucky today to be able to see the sacred timing.  Wherever you are on your healing journey, know I believe in you and your body.  This work matters.  And, the timing is all yours.

Recommended movement music to for this writing:

You Can’t Rush Healing by Trevor Hall

Rest and Digest: Celebrating a new Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving holiday was emotionally the safest and neurologically the longest parasympathetic stretch of my entire life.  I am the calmest and most grounded in my body I have ever been following this particular holiday.  The people that were allowed to gather near me this week created love sharing similar values.  Mostly, my time was spent with my son and my husband that I adore so deeply it goes beyond any written words.  I allowed myself to be cared for by myself and others.  Yesterday, I napped hard and would occasionally awaken and watch my husband clean our home as we prepared together for emerging from our nest back into the wide world.  I left last night and went to soak alone for 30 minutes in hot water and did not even consider taking my phone with me.  This is new.  So much is new as I close this holiday weekend that writing felt necessary for true integration.  This was not the adrenal-addled Thanksgiving of years past due to my own HARD decisions and emotional growth.

As a child of abuse my synapses were wired from infancy in fight or flight.  My biological father used a shotgun inside our house in rage.  Later he tried to kill my mother by cutting her brake lines and I lived through his violent presence in our home and my brain/body remembered. My mother was the child of an alcoholic and her transgenerational programming of neglect and abuse instructed my nervous system as well. My birth was her failed 16 year old escape plan from her family of origin. The repetition of abusive relationships shifted and changed over the years for both my mother and myself but only this year was I finally able to find clarity and truly cut from the web of the abuse of my childhood.  

I came into utter clarity this year and was forced to let go of both of my parents after I witnessed the abuse of my mother in my home.   

The patterns of abuse within my mother and step father’s relationship were less obvious than a shotgun being fired in the house and yet, the patterns and neurological impact were still there.  My clarity is this, the patterns of abuse ends with me. This cycle ends with me, mostly for the health and well-being of my own child and now I realize for the health of my of own neurology. Since distancing myself from both of my parents, living in my body feels very different and there has been so so much grief. Because of my growing clarity I bravely stood up immediately to witnessed abuse this past September and asked my step dad to leave my home. What ensued was scary and hurtful AND predictable behavior from an abusive person. AND, I stood strong in my clarity despite many attempts by my mother to smooth this over.

You can do all the work on yourself imaginable and if you still allow persons utilizing abuse in your presence, the cycle will continue. It gets extremely tricky when an abusive person is your parent or step parent.  I miss my mom every single day.  We were extremely close and talked daily AND I now see how her adult decisions are continuing to support this pattern of abuse.  Now we share only a few words once a week as I do not want to continue to enable her.  I do not miss my step father.  Over the past few months, I have been able to see more clearly the impact his unchecked abuse has had on our family over the past 30 years.  This week I received my last text from him and I finally blocked him from my cell phone.  Prior to making this choice I was able to tell him in utter clarity that I was afraid of him and no longer desired a relationship with him. 

Writing this blog is terrifying and cathartic as I have spent so much energy covering up for my family over the years.  It has been my job to pretend everything was ok when it never really was.  I was asked to call this man Dad when he never actually was a father to me.  I tried desperately as a teen to create something out of absolutely nothing because it was what I was given.  Today I consciously call that energy home.  I no longer need a father like I once did.  I am no longer the scared and lonely child I once was.  

I am whole. I am loved unconditionally and deeply. I consciously create my own safety and care.

I write today because I know with certainty that others spent the holidays with folks who may not be good for their nervous systems.  I write this because I want to continue to remind MYSELF that as grown ADULTS, we have a choice, always in who we stand closest to.  As children we have none and this helplessness can spread unconsciously into adulthood if we do not examine our choices.  

Nothing has been particularly easy about the choices I have made this year AND like many of the hard choices in life, the results are worth it. I choose to love my parents deeply from a distance that reflects their actual behaviors rather than an idealized child’s dream of an intact family. I embrace my clarity consciously again and again until it become habitual. And, in this choice I can come home, truly home within myself.

Screen Time Boundaries

For those parenting older children, you are putting the finishing touches on Generation Z.  Those of us with younger children are parenting what is now known to cultural scientists as Generation Alpha.  Generation Z was the first group of children to be raised their entire lifetimes with access to both the internet and handheld technology.  This generation’s brains have codeveloped immersed within technology.  Humans are adaptive and our brains are quite dynamic for shaping to any given environment.  There are folks that argue this technological reality has been to our cultural and mental benefit (Scientific America). Certainly the isolation of COVID would have looked entirely different without virtual connection. However, beyond this debate of whether tech is inherently good or bad for us, what I am most interested in as a parent and as a pediatrician is this:  How do I teach and model for my child the internal boundaries required for maintaining a healthy relationship with screen time? 

As a concierge pediatrician, I am oncall nearly 365 days a year and have been for five years now.  This requires that my phone be available to me at all times, particularly during the daytime hours when my child is awake and witnessing my behavior.  Though this is a work requirement, needing to check my phone for texts and calls sets me up for a dangerous relationship with my phone. Moreover with more addictive phone apps that have been programmed to grab my attention, I can become entirely lost to those around me. I had to remove both the Facebook and TikTok app from my phone.  From my child’s perspective, I am on my phone constantly.  This is what I have been modeling for years and there are consequences to this modeling. Over the past few months I have begun to make radical shifts.  I now have clinical help that affords me three to four day stints in the mountains without my phone in my hand.  I check my phone less habitually due to this new clinical support system.  I am still very present for my clients and more so for myself and my own family. This change has happened over years and represents my mature internal boundary systems at work, SLOWLY over time.  Internal boundaries have to be nurtured and respected in ourselves and then we can begin to teach our children.  They take patience and time to develop.  Children are not born mature.  To expect their brains to be and act like ours is fallacy.  J frequently likes to point out, Mom I am a kid!  I truly forget sometimes that he is only nine years old. 

So what are internal boundaries?  At the simplest definition this is the resulting clarity of our internal yes and no.  For MANY people this part of themselves either never had the chance to fully form and/or due to trauma was lost or muddled with the help of the dysfunctional adults around us. Any toddler knows a true yes and a true no.  This is part of what makes them such a tough crowd!  The loss of our embodied yes and no is the flag that marks the spots of transgenerational trauma.  Say what now?  I know.  This may feel like a HUGE jump for some of you but for those of you that have done boundary work, you are nodding with me. 

Screen time comes down to boundaries.  Ideally for your child these will be cultivated from the inside out.   Turning screen time into a war zone and a battle of wills is exhausting for all involved.  It also has a tendency to hurt rather than nurture the parent-child relationship.  Now, does this mean that I hand a seven year old a tablet and walk away? No, not at all.  I mention this because how much of our children’s screen time are we actually present for?  How many times have I thought, ok I can meet with this client and my kiddo can just watch a show.  The screen has become a babysitter, a break, a moment to catch our breaths as mothers living in a patriarchal society in which frankly we aren’t afforded the support that we need for our own work.  As mothers we have to fight for a moment to breathe and have two consecutive uninterrupted thoughts.  It was 5:30a when I got up to write this article.  It is the ONLY waking quiet I have during the day.  I am certain I am not alone in this and so, the screen becomes our maternal relief. This investigation has revealed the tip of the iceberg and the deeper issues such as our continued cultural lack of maternal support have become visible. This “screen time” issue is so beyond at how many minutes do I set the screen locks.

So what do we do for now?  I get to embrace my child’s journey into embodiment and to help him find his true yes and true no, his internal compass.  And yep, as a mature, embodied parent I do get to act as guide.  I love Shanti Zimmerman’s boundary work and she says that as a parent I provide reference points.  This is very differently than swooping in and imposing a view on someone.  Yes, I have lived longer and have some hard-earned wisdom and maturity to convey.  And most importantly, I get to model my internal boundaries again, and again for Julien to come to a true understanding of how to be a healthy, embodied and present human being.  Whether it is screen time, driving a car, relationships, nutrition, sleep behaviors it will always be more of what we are actually modeling than what is coming out of our mouths.  And what I love about an embodied, boundaried kid is…he isn’t afraid to tell me when I am living/being/acting outside of my own boundaries.

So the first questions I ask myself when my kiddo and I begin to argue about screen time are these:  

  1. How present have I been to him today?  
  2. Is there a need he is attempting to fill through the screen that I can help with, ie missing his friends, feeling lonely, feeling bored?

Typically these questions are enough to get us started down a healthy path of collaborative communication.  

If you’re interested in our screen time specifics currently (this is absolutely dynamic) and likely will have nothing to do with what your particular kid needs…and you can get a feel for what we are doing:

He currently plays video games only on the weekend unless traveling into the mountains which the lack of wifi/signal will mess this sacred time up and so we adjust to travel.  The weekend play is dependent on friends being virtually available as this is his only social life as we are living in a different state homeschooling currently.  The weekend play is far more screen time than he has ever been allowed in his entire life but we monitor it closely and watch for the place where the play starts to lose it luster and he mentally shifts. This requires us to stay present.  If Dad is available he will often play as well to help monitor behaviors and for comradery. My kiddo can’t see all of this internally yet as he’s nine years old.  There is a slow and steady neurological process/awareness at work.  At this point when we see him start to break down (externally visible through speech, movements) we begin coaching and offering alternatives and recommending the end of screen time.  Saying out loud what we are physically noticing in him we help him notice.  There is an off ramp to the video game time that is often ugly and not a lot of fun that lasts for 30min to 1 hr (neurology resetting to real life) AND requires my FULL PRESENCE.  I used to panic in this phase thinking he was going to have permanent damage but now I get that it is a natural transition phase from the intense neurological effects of gaming.  It passes.  Then he’s fine and ready for a real life adventure.  Clearly, this is a LOT of work on our end and I truly believe this is what it takes for him to really get it. 

He earns his daytime/weekday shows through his homeschool work.  Savvy folks recognize this as an external motivator/validation AND it works too and helps me have the energy to remain present after a full day of homeschool!!!!  Internal boundaries/motivation will always win in the end AND it is ok to use external motivation as well as a parent.  The most important thing is that your kid learns the difference between these motivators and knows when they are acting upon them. 

None of this is easy really. It takes my presence and a lot of my time for him to utilize screen time in a healthy way. He’s awake now! And watching The Simpsons and so I better wrap this up.

Love and tenderness to you as you journey with screen use in your own life and that of your kiddos.

-Heather Kim, DO

Let’s Talk about Sex (before it’s too late)

As many of you know reproductive rights have moved from the quiet shadows of conversations out into the wide open these past weeks, especially in Texas. I am grateful to see the attempts at repression resulting in a sisterhood of backlash in which women are beginning to drop the decades of shame that have saddled their lives and bodies. In telling their stories out loud, healing is happening at a profound level. My passion for women’s rights has been ignited and burns with such an intensity, my heart now glows visible from miles away. As a pediatrician it has been hard to figure out where my energy will be best utilized in this fight against patriarchy as I am not an obstetrician nor a lawyer and so my “frontline” is going to look more like a flank. My responsibility today is family education and preventative care.

Sex education in Texas schools at this time is extremely restrictive (abstinence curriculum only) and leaves the responsibility of actual sex education on the parents of these children. This is wonderful in some ways as I don’t want an anti LGBTQ nut in the Texas school system teaching my child a single thing about sex. The problem is this, not all kids have a parent around to feed and supervise them let alone sit down and have an awkward sex conversation. Not all parents know how a menstrual cycle works, their own fertility windows etc. Also, denial is an all too common coping strategy when it comes to teens and sexual activity and when utilized it is dangerous for all involved.

Average age for onset of sexual intercourse in the United States is 17 years. Firstly as 17 years is the reported average, mathematically it means some of these kids younger than 17 are sexually active. Ask your teacher friends if you want to really be horrified. I also want to be crystal clear, as a wise woman I don’t think a 14 year old has the spiritual capacity for intercourse nor its consequences. I am not pro young kids doing MANY of the things that they get up to and yet as a pediatrician and a trusted mother I get to be a real and a safe place for them to land when they get off course. In the state of Texas right now sexual education is paramount and could truly be life saving. It is critical for parents of children 14 years and up to create a reproductive sexuality box and GIVE it to their child.* You want the child to have the box and to store it where they choose. It is none of your business once teaching is complete and handed over UNLESS your child comes to you. Some children will, and some will not. Children need that privacy and autonomy to use this box correctly. Understand, owning a hammer doesn’t mean I need to immediately go out and build a house. However before I do build a house I need to practice swinging a hammer, yes? This is about having the tools. This is about opening the conversations and showing your kids what is out there to PROTECT them and their friends. Abstinence is great. Waiting until marriage is also a great recommendation. Just know reality is this, 95% of Americans have sex before marriage. Raising a child without a partner is hard AF. If you are the mother of a daughter right now, the reality of patriarchy is this, the majority of this responsibility financially and emotionally will fall on you and your daughter’s shoulders. It is not fair nor right AND we get to be REAL about what things are like currently as we work toward change.

Teen Sexuality Preparedness Box

  1. Tampons/pads
  2. Condoms
  3. Water based lubricant
  4. Plan B
  5. Pregnancy Tests

Now the hard part. You cannot just give this stuff to a 14 year old without discussing what each tool is and how to use them. If this conversation is horrifying to you or you don’t feel like your understanding of the menstrual cycle and human reproduction are the strongest then I highly recommend the Unitarian Universalist OWL program. What I like about OWL is that they have classes for all ages and are inclusive and open. There are many other resources online and local sex educators will be free to comment and add links to what they offer. Also I am happy to help anyone with this topic for FREE. Please just reach out directly via the contact link.

These five are for ALL genders. This box does NOT change for boys, girls or other folx. So why tampons and pads? This is a gateway to talking about the menstrual cycle. Giving guys tampons helps demystify them and makes them that guy that is willing to go to the store to buy them for his girlfriend. Understanding the menstrual cycle empowers kids to know when they or their partner is most fertile. Condoms are a no brainer. It is the teen chosen tool of protection, wisely preventing both pregnancy and minimizing spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Put large amount of different brands of condoms. Share and trade with Mom/Dad friends. I would love to see teen parents getting together, sipping wine and joyfully building these boxes as a village. Give kids enough condoms that they can play and practice with them. Again swinging the hammer so that when it comes time to build, I know what I’m doing. These boxes are gender neutral. As much as young men need tampons and pads women need condoms. They get to know how to use them. Condom play is a phenomenal way to keep your teen healthy. The famous banana demonstration is great and there is nothing like giving a kid extra condoms and letting them work out the best way for them to get it on and off. Grasping the base of condom as one exits a sexual encounter is a skill and an important part of the discussion so that they don’t simply dump the contents into their partner. Water based lubricant is crucial in this kit. They can use this for healthy masturbation and water based lube is critical to keeping a condom intact. Oil based lubricants destroy condoms are often the easiest household type item kids will grab mistakenly. Make sure your kids know the difference between oils and water based lubricant and how to read labels. These same kids will leave for college soon and you want them ready! Plan B is a must in the teen box because condoms break, they can be slid off incorrectly especially with a newer user, and in a moment of passion, they can be forgotten all together. Plan B is available OTC and can also be found on Amazon. Check your expiration dates when they arrive. Make a note of the expiration date in your phone calendar/reminder and if your child hasn’t asked for another, just replace when expires. Plan B is a large dose of progesterone that blocks ovulation/implantation and works much like oral birth control. It will not abort a pregnancy that is already there. This is why it is critical that it be given immediately following a condom failure. This is why it is important to have the medication on hand as timing is key to the success of it use. The later it is given, the less efficacy this medication has. The package will say up to 72 hours but again every minute counts towards better efficacy. Pregnancy tests can be purchased at the Dollar Tree and help children know when they need immediate help. Teach kids WHEN to start testing. I would place at least 3-4 in the kit. And make sure that your child knows what a positive pregnancy test looks like and that it means you need trusted adult help immediately.

I hope this helps you get started and gives you ideas on how to help advocate for the continued health of your kids. Please reach out through the contact portion of the website with any private questions or in the comments if you think it will help others!

*see OWL link for age appropriate resources for younger children education ie naming body parts etc. Also know your child and their friends. Peers are a powerful influence. If you get wind through your 13yro of sexual activity in their class, give them the box!